Anthony Madrid (writing for the Paris Review) doesn’t like half-rhymes, slant-rhymes, or eye-rhymes:
Everybody who cares anything for old poetry in English knows how it feels—knows how awful it feels—when a poem is rhyming away and then suddenly the rhyme goes off the rails for a second because English pronunciation has changed since the time the poem was written.
What does all this have to do with Chinese? Well, if you don’t already know, you could easily guess that the Chinese language—with all its dialects, creoles, sister languages, and God knows what all—has changed a great deal in the last, oh, three thousand years.
He then launches into a discussion on what he calls “rhyme spoilage.” But what he finds interesting is that
I can also see how different from modern Mandarin the various words were in 1000 B.C.E. … Yet—and this is the crazy part—they still rhyme in their new forms. This can only be because all the vowels and the consonants shifted together and consistently, like with the Great Vowel Shift in the Indo-European languages. Or that other thing where all the p’s in Latin show up as f’s in English (pater/father, et cetera).
Would it be right to say that a lot of old Chinese poetry has pretty much gone from being perfectly rhymed Robert Frost poems to being weirdly rhymed Emily Dickinson poems?
He wants your answers:
Right now there are people reading these very words who know—who truly know—the answers to these questions. So I’m going to go ahead and announce a very exciting conference that is to be held in my gmail inbox. We are looking for papers that would speak to the two questions, above.
Click the image above to read his full post with Madrid’s email to write him with your own expertise and opinions.
The Writing China blog caught up with Xi Chuan (and Fan Wen 范稳 and Wang Gang 王刚) at the Copenhagen International Literature Festival, and has posted their replies to a brief questionnaire. Here’s an excerpt from what Xi Chuan had to say:
on STYLE: Earlier I wrote lyrical poems, now I just write texts embodying something not poetic. It’s more like poetic notes. I call it ‘poessay’ (散文诗), because it’s somewhere between poetry and essay. on CHINESE AND EUROPEAN LITERATURE: I once met Doris Lessing. She asked me about the Cultural Revolution and I in turn asked her about European literature. She said that after 1989 it had become less experimental because of the need to deal with real social problems. I also feel that I can’t follow others, but my work has to relate to reality even if that reality is a disaster. on TRANSLATION: When I translated the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, I didn’t use a dictionary, instead I asked my Polish friends whenever there was something I didn’t understand. on THE UNIVERSAL POET: Being a poet means you have to make sacrifices. Both in China and Denmark. As the American poet Robert Frost has it: “To take the road less travelled by.”
Poets Helen Wing and Xi Chuan come together to explore the idea of poetry as fire, from the fire imagery in their poems to their views on how the poetic imagination spreads, like fire, beyond borders. Writing in English (Helen) and Chinese (Xi Chuan), their work suggests that (with apologies to Robert Frost) poetry is not, after all, lost in translation.
The event promises to be excellent (I’ve hated Robert Frost for that line long enough, but now it’s time people were aware that David Bellos has demonstrated that “nobody has ever been able to find Frost saying anything like it in his works”). And here’s Helen Wing’s bio:
Helen Wing is a poet and a fiction writer who lives variously in Beijing, Cairo and London. Currently she is Writer-in-Residence at Harrow International School, Beijing and works part-time at Renmin Da Xue. At Harrow, she promotes poetry writing with the students and publishes an annual poetry book project, done jointly with Harrow students and the students at Project Hope Vocational School, a migrant children’s charity school based in Wangjing. Her poetic work, Archangel, rose to number four on Amazon’s e-kindle poetry list last year. Other poems have been published in a recent Middle Eastern anthology, Nowhere Near a Damned Rainbow: Unsanctioned Writing of the Middle East. Her stories have been published in the Mississippi Prize Review, the Southern Cross Review, in the Tale of Four Cities and Sukoon. She is currently working on a novel called I swore I’d set that donkey free before I left Beijing.
Born in London, Helen studied Spanish and French at Cambridge University and holds a PhD in Spanish poetry.
To begin with, Jacob Edmond’s new book, A Common Strangeness, is anything but common and signals what I hope will be a new trend toward more ambitious studies of late-modernist to contemporary poetics on a global scale. While it might be premature to announce the arrival of a “global poetics,” there is a pressing need for a space to explore this genre specific cognate of World Literature, a space to reimagine what in China operates under the title: comparative poetics (比较诗学). This is a robust area of academic research in China, yet it tends to reduce poetry and poetics to the pre WWII traditional canon: Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus; Sidney, Pope, and Johnson; Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Emerson; Poe, Arnold, and Eliot; and perhaps Frost, Williams, Hughes, and, because it is China, Pound. In English literary criticism today, however, the term “poetics” often demarks poetry discourses consciously connected to avant-garde practice along the vectors of a more radical canon: Blake, Whitman, Stein, Pound, Zukofsky, Olson, Mac Low/John Cage to Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian and others associated with the so-called LANGUAGE poets from the 1970s forward through neo-conceptual poetry, etc … One should also mention that scholars tracking trends in contemporary poetics in the West have remained problematically Anglophonocentric and have largely failed to attend to poetic shifts on a global scale unless such shifts are explicitly conversant in the idioms of innovative English-based poetics (including those within the Sinophone sphere). So while no single volume could ever hope to connect the multitudinous and heterogeneous threads of a “global poetics,” A Common Strangeness succeeds in moving in this direction in part by offering a critical lens (strangeness) through which to view poetry on a global scale.